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December 4, 2003

Get Myself Connected

Finally I've managed to get a Finnish sim card and get my phone working on data over here so I can now update the site again. Carita and I are in the lovely city of Turku right now on the west coast and surpisingly it's not too cold at all!

December 6, 2003

Finnish Sauna Sessions

Last night we had a serious sauna session. Carita's grandparents, who we're visiting in Turku, have a lovely, wood-fired sauna and so I was given a lesson on Finnish sauna culture.

Wood-fired saunas take about two hours to get up to temperature, after which Carita and I went in and did a bit of sweating - naked of course as it's unhygienic to wear anything. We took a break and stood outside on the terrace to cool off - there'd just been a fresh fall of snow and everything was white but, of course, it was pretty freezing and we soon returned to the sauna to warm up and beat each other with oak branches until our bodies were red. Apparently, this isn't just for sado-masochists but improves your blood circulation and softens your skin by leaving beneficial leaf extracts on it. We had some 'sauna beers' to relax us even more and threw some cold water over each other - I'm told it's normal to get pissed in the sauna here. Many saunas in Finland are wood-fired as it gives a smoother, less dry and more controllable heat, and it was lovely sitting there drinking cold beer. After that we had a cold shower and washed each other, which is apparently another very Finnish thing for couples to do.

We left the sauna and spent the rest of the evening eating oven sausage and drinking a Finnish snapsi called Koskenkorva, which I was pressured by Carita's grandfather to down with a slice of guerkin (which I do hate). Finally, somewhat dazed, we returned to the sauna to warm our bones before collapsing into bed together.

December 8, 2003

Independence Day, Finland

Saturday was Independence Day here in Finland and Carita and I went along to watch the parade in Turku. Well, to be more accurate we were dragged along by Carita's grandfather and stood for hours in sub-zero temperatures waiting for it to pass. It was great. Afterwards, frozen and shivering, the two of us dived into the nearest cafe and spent the rest of the afternoon desperately trying to thaw out.

December 10, 2003

Global Warming in Finland

It's been an unusually warm winter so far in Finland with hardly any snow and temperatures hovering above freezing much of the time. Over the last years lots of native species have died out due to the climate getting gradually warmer and many foreign species have established themselves here, further affecting the ecosystem. People are also worried that if snow doesn't come soon it'll do a lot of harm to the country's winter sports events and tourism. Worst of all, however, is that if there isn't a white Christmas people just won't be able to handle it and a lot of Finns will hang themselves.

December 13, 2003

Embarressing Situations no.1

Now this is mortally embarressing. We're staying with Carita's parents right now and, as usual, her and l were going to bed at three o'clock in the morning. So I walked into the bathroom, closed the door, and while I was looking for the light switch a naked man sitting on the toilet (her father), said "Good morning" to me. Naturally, I made my apologies and left.

Time to leave the country.

December 14, 2003

South-West Finland

Convinced that we should stop wandering around forests and do some serious travelling we spent the weekend driving the south-west Finnish coast. We woke up early on Saturday with a bit of a hangover, stumbled out, and drove to 14th century Raasepori Castle. The west coast of Finland uses Swedish as a first language, much to Carita's disagreement, and bizarely, Swedish speakers tend to get the better jobs in the country. We carried on to Hanko, Finland's southernmost town and it's biggest sailing centre, walked along the beach, and enjoyed one of the worst burgers in Scandinavia.

It was beginning to get dark as we drove through Helsinki and onto Porvoo, one of the oldest towns in Finland and with lovely, wooden houses clustered in the old part of town by the river. We checked into the youth hostel there while Carita terrified the staff with Ira, her rottweiler. It turned out to be one of the strictest hostels I'd stayed in, however, and I was kicked out of the kitchen so it could close at 11pm with my half-cooked pizza in hand.

I woke up and looked out of the window this morning to find everything covered in snow - finally things are beginning to look how Finland should look in the winter.

December 17, 2003

Finnish Friendliness

Finland seems to be one of the friendliest countries I've found in Scandinavia. There is, of course, the shyness that seems to haunt all of the region, but once you get over that people are very welcoming, polite, and helpful. Hold a door open for someone and they'll thank you, people working in shops and cafes talk to you. But the best thing about Finland is that no-one knows the, "I bet you a Euro I can make your breasts move without touching them" trick!

December 18, 2003

Estonia Calls

I'm staying in Helsinki tonight and planning to catch a Baltic ferry over to Estonia tomorrow for a few days. As long as the weather is ok the ferry crossings are fairly frequent as the Finns tend to go over to Tallinn regularly for duty-free supplies and Estonian entertainment. Apparently, they also come back robbed or dead every so often so l've been given stern warnings not to go into any dodgy bars, or eat or drink anything while I'm over there.

December 19, 2003

Eastward Bound

I'm on the ferry to Tallinn now and we've just left Helsinki. Must try hard not to get sea-sick! The Estonians onboard do look like they would mug you for a potatoe - I'm glad I'm not from eastern Europe!

December 20, 2003

Estonian Travels

I called and booked a room in a hostel from the ferry just before we got out of Finland's mobile coverage, which was just as well as none of my collection of sim cards worked on the Estonian networks. It was dark as I got off the ferry and wandered from the port up through Tallinn's old town with it's amazing collection of medieval buildings. Almost every street has stunning architecture and it's obvious why it's a UNESCO heritage site.

Eventually, I found the tram I was looking for, got on it without a ticket, and it sped off in the wrong direction. It took some time, but finally I made it to the hostel. It was part of a multi-storey in a housing scheme and I prepared myself for spending the night in an awful room. The receptionist, a middle-aged woman in a leopard-skin print jacket seemed friendly enough and took me to the room. Surprisingly, however, it was really quite nice, with a double bed and satellite tv, which was just as well as I didn't fancy trying to find anywhere else to stay.

I relaxed for a bit and found VH1 on the tv, but for some reason it was showing just 1980's videos - obviously some time-warp is happening in Estonia or people just like watching Kylie when she was a teenager! After I couldn't handle anymore of it I went out, found a McDonalds around the corner (a Big Mac is only about 2euros here), and headed back into town.

Tallinn really is incredibly beautiful, and it's cheap. After I'd satisfied myself with walking around the streets I found myself drawn into a huge beer hall. I then spent a busy night sampling Estonia's beer supplies and then embarked on a hazy bus trip back to the hostel.

Wi-Fi in Estonia

I sat down in a cafe in the centre of Tallinn and took my Palm out. There seemed no point in sniffing for wi-fi here in Estonia but I gave it a try anyway. Amazingly, there was a wi-fi access point in the cafe I was sitting in! It was protected, however, and required log-in details so I asked the girl on the counter how to buy credit for it. She told me that it works through sms authentication - you send a text message to the server and the cost of the log-in, a lovely 50p for 24 hours (less than 1euro), is debited from your phone account. Just typical though now that my phone wasn't working! She also told me about a free network that one of the hotels had in it's lobby - obviously does some war-driving herself! I went and checked it out but it was turned off, so I bought myself an Estonian sim card, sent a text, and I'm now enjoying a lovely, fast, cheap internet connection in Wayne's Cafe (Estonia pst. 3/5) on my Palm!

The hotspots are operated by Uninet, and are dotted around town in bars, cafes, even the heliport that handles flights to Finland. The authentication seems to be system-wide - logging in to one allows you access to the whole network for the whole day. Truly how wi-fi should work and cost.

December 22, 2003

Estonian Menus

As part of my occasional series on bizarre menus from around the world, here's some of the food on offer in Beer House, a lovely bar and restaurant I ate in last night.

overcooked salmon with potatoes and vegetables
roast chicken crops
pigs ears with sauce
pigtails with garlic sauce
homely bratwurst
hunter's sausage stuffed with cheese
cheese plate
potato burgers with sour-cream
roast pettitoes
pike perch fillet in puff beer pastry
ice cream (walnut, prunes, cowberry jam)
sauna with resting room & jacuzzi for up to 15 persons

December 27, 2003

EU Expansion

Estonia turned out to be much nicer than I expected. I spent my last evening in a bar there before returning to Finland for Christmas and sat drinking some very large glasses of beer while I watched Estonians enjoying themselves. Lots of the girls were really attractive but strangely enough the guys all seemed to be deformed, as if evolution had left them behind and given them a liking for very bad haircuts and drainpipe trousers. They all shared a liking for 80's music, however, which was just as well as it was all you could listen to in the country, and everyone danced like they'd had an accident in their pants.

Tallinn really is a beautiful town, however, and although the country is obviously recovering from Soviet rule, things do seem to be changing quickly. Which is just as well, really, when you consider that next year they'll be joining the European Union. Which seems a little bit strange. I mean, I do understand the case for expanding the EU - the need for more fit women in it, but surely we should think about it carefully as we're also going to end up with lots of guys with crew-cuts wearing tight trousers.

December 28, 2003

Return of the King

Carita and I went to see the new 'Lord of the Rings' film last night, 'Return of the King' in Helsinki and it was wonderful. The special effects are so good that often during the film it's hard to believe that what you're looking at isn't real. It's nail-biting from beginning to end, and so moving that everyone in our row was wiping tears away from their eyes. Definitely the best film I've seen this year.

December 29, 2003

Welchia Woes

My anti-virus subscription ran out the other day and my pc, promiscuous as it is, managed to immediately catch the Welchia worm. Last night was a nightmare of trying to find out what the worm was while being unable to stop it from running and completely controlling my pc as if it was possessed, but it now seems to be clean again. Off to find a fast wi-fi hotspot tomorrow to catch up with Windows security updates for the last few weeks. Oh, for a secure operating system...